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Top 5 edge rushing prospects & sleepers before the NFL Combine

An early ranking of the players pegged to be the next wave of NFL sack artists

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The ability to get to the quarterback is an area the 49ers have been suffering at for some time now. Not since Aldson Smith have we had a guy that could really pressure the qb and close out games. One could argue it’s actually the greatest need for this team as it stands. Despite spending early round picks on the defensive line for the past 3 years we haven’t generated the type of chaos we had hoped to inflict on opposing teams. The sheer idea of adding what could technically end up being another defensive lineman in the form of a LEO does have some Niners fans sick already but it may very well end up being a direction we head in. With minimal talent hitting free agency, the team will have to look to the draft to add to their sack total next year whether they find that from the LEO or SAM position. Considering the clear need by the team, let’s take a look at the guys considered to be the top 5 at such a role heading into the combine.

Top 5 Edge Rushers

Bradley Chubb - DE - North Carolina State
6’4” - 276 lbs - Approx 40 time - 4.79

It’s hard to argue against Chubb being the best pass rushing specimen in this draft. His production at NC State spoke for itself and his physical tools finished the conversation. Chubb is what you can easily call a safe pick for the team that takes him. He may never amount to a double digit sack artist in the NFL but at a minimum you get a guy with a very high motor who plays the run well. On the other hand if you land him on a team that has another respectable threat on the other edge, Chubb could produce a lot of problems for opposing teams. Coming from a family with football in it’s blood, Chubb would have been my preferred choice over Solomon Thomas had the two came out last year. Not in the same mold as a Myles Garrett, he may still surprise people with his combine numbers. Anything short of a combine meltdown and he will be coming off the board in the top 10. The demand for edge rushers is ever present and when a guy has such a low floor it makes the choice even easier.

Round Projection - Top 10 Lock

Marcus Davenport - DE - UTSA
6’6” - 255 lbs - Approx 40 time - 4.75

While some of the big pass rushing prospects last year have fallen out of favor a bit one name has been rising up lately, Marcus Davenport. Playing in Conference USA did not get him as much exposure as Landry or Key but his production was certainly noticed by scouts. One of the players teams were keenly watching at the Senior Bowl, Davenport did himself nothing but favors by the end of the week. Teams will have to use their imagination a bit as to if they want him to play with his hand in the dirt or standing up as he did at UTSA. Davenport has the ability to get to the quarterback at the NFL level, but could definitely stand to improve on his pad level and technique with proper coaching at the next level. Given the lack of a clear cut choice behind Chubb for the next best edge rusher, Davenport could generate the type of huge climb Solomon Thomas had last year come draft night. A lot will be determined at the combine as Davenport could be a target for the 49ers to solidify the LEO position even if it means that illustrious 4th year in a row of a DL.

Round Projection - 1st Round

Arden Key - DE - LSU
6’6” - 250 lbs ?? - Approx 40 time - 4.67

Probably one of the hardest prospects to project at any position in this draft is LSU’s Arden Key. A player with his build and first step would normally be someone we would be salivating over given our lack of pass rush on the current roster, but Key gives reason to pause with his performance this past season among other things. The biggest question that comes to rise about him is his lack of effort on the field at times. If you compare his work in the Alabama game versus the Ole Miss game it gives a great example. Key will be facing some hard questions at the combine about his desire to play and work ethic but should he answer scouts and general managers to their satisfaction he could be in play very early on in the draft. Personally I’m still a big fan just because of the potential there. He has attributes you really can’t teach and deficiencies that can be coached. All that being said I don’t want this team taking a chance with a high round pick. We still have a lot of holes to fill and are turning the corner to be competitive again. Key comes in as a player who could have perceived value as Foster did where we selected him last year. I’m just not sure we have the locker room presence on defense yet to keep these young players on track.

Round Projection - Late 1st - Early 2nd

Harold Landry - DE - Boston College
6’3” - 250 lbs - Approx 40 time - 4.71

The other breakout player from 2016 that slowed down in 2017 was Harold Landry. Landry put up huge numbers in 2016, getting to the quarterback for 16.5 sacks. He decided to return for his senior year and may have hurt himself in doing so. The need was there to polish his game further, but an ankle injury cost him most of the season and he did not look nearly as explosive in the action he saw. I would consider this justifiable considering the nature of the injury. No one is questioning his desire, in fact most commend Harold for his motor. When you watch tape on him you can see the amazing bend he uses to get to the quarterback. Not nearly as tall as some of the other rushers on this list, Landry uses his burst and arm length to get past tackles on his way to getting sacks. However, he will have to add some more moves to his arsenal at the next level to add continuous pressure. If we go off what we have been told, Robert Saleh likes a guy with a build just like Landry to fill the LEO position. Hopefully, he will be all healed up when the combine arrives so we can see him face off against everyone else rather than only see him at his pro-day. A player of his skill set should be on our radar and is worthy of attention.

Round Projection - Late 1st - Early 2nd

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo - DE/LB - Oklahoma
6’1” - 245 lbs - Approx 40 time - 4.65

The last player on my list is a bit of a hybrid pass rusher coming out of Oklahoma. Okoronkwo is certainly undersized if he measures in at 6’1” at the combine, but we already have an undersized pass rusher on our team in Elvis Dumervil who defied standards regarding height. Ogbonnia should post some very nice numbers at the combine with his naturally athletic ability, but still has much to refine for the NFL. In his time at Oklahoma he made notable progress each season so it leads me to believe he will be able to benefit from NFL coaching and strength training once he is drafted. His position on a team will be a judgment call by that respective Defensive Coordinator, but as far as the 49ers go he would probably fill in as an undersized, upgrade at the SAM position. Some analysts don’t envision Okoronkwo as one of the higher rated pass rushers in this draft but I believe his motor and his growth progress are the intangibles that can lead him to exceed expectations.

Round Projection - Late 1st - Early 2nd


Mike Love - DE - University of South Florida

Saw this kid play in person a few times as I reside in Tampa and I think he could end being some very solid value to the team that takes a shot on him late. We could certainly use depth so hope he’s on our radar.

Round Projection - 4-5